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Review of Bound (The Silverton Chronicles #2), by Carmen Fox

I won an Audible copy of Carmen Fox‘s Bound. I read and reviewed book one of The Silverton Chronicles, Guarded earlier in the month.

Description from Goodreads:
Florian has it all: excellent fashion sense, a kickass job with his best friend, and a hard-won place among Silverton’s werewolves. When a pack of females pads into their territory, Flo’s alpha dispatches him to handle a merger. Total cakewalk. Except Keely, their alpha, has no intention of submitting her wolves to Flo’s larger pack. Worse, a single glance from her baby blues sends his eloquence on vacation and his heartbeat into overdrive. His flirtations seem welcome too, but there’s a snag. She doesn’t know he’s a vampire.

While Flo struggles with his conflicts—obey his alpha or win over Keely—his estranged sire blasts into town with a catalog of radical ideas. And hanging out with unsophisticated werewolves didn’t make the list.

With violence in the air and all sides testing his loyalties, Florian must bite back, even if showing his fangs costs him the girl.

Look, I realize that not every book is going to be a feminist masterpiece. But there are times when a reader who is even remotely aware of stereotypical representations of women in fiction reads a book and can’t help but notice when a woman is pigeonholed in a patriarchal way. And there are times when this is done so drastically or repeatedly that it becomes an all-encompassing distraction for said reader. That is the case with me and this book. I was so often side-eyeing it with a ‘why does that female character act that particular way’ or ‘why is that women treated this way’ that it blotted out most of the rest of the story.

This book was infuriating. As far as I was concerned it’s basically a litany of ways to subtly to say ‘subservient to a man is a woman’s true place.’ Everything from the older female vampire who couldn’t stand up to her maker, while the younger brother was a “full grown male” so he could, to the ultra powerful Guardian who could only do her duty because her husband allowed her to, to the female alpha who didn’t really want to be an alpha, but “just a girl” (not woman mind you, but girl) who gives responsibility to someone else (a man). And of course she also happened to like to be tied up and spanked, another way to give away her power. And of course she was treated as unreasonable because she didn’t want to submit. And of course the solution the book comes to in the end  was actually subservience to a male dressed up as something else.

But there’s more. There’s the vampire sister who really liked to clean up after her brothers and iron the clothes and domestically slave away for them, instead of pursuing her own career. And a whole boatload of victimized women who are treated as a commodity. But mostly, it’s just a ton of subtle little snipes that put men above women. And that’s without my getting into how dehumanizing I thought their constantly being referred to a ‘the females’ was. None of whom had names or personalities. They might as well have been ‘the vases’ or the ‘vehicles’ or ‘the incubators.’ It drove me crazy.

But stories that paint women as secretly wanting to place themselves in the hands of a man, instead of being responcible for themselves isn’t uncommon. The thing in this book that irritated me, but isn’t so common was the treatment of Ollie (maybe Ali, can’t tell with an audio version). Unless he gets an M/M book next in the series, I’m going to have to call that whole thing nothing more than queer bating. There is just no reason for Florian and Ivy to be bound to ‘mates’ in the same ceremony and one lead to a romance without readers expecting the same from the other. And there isn’t any reason to set this up with a man except queer bating. You might say it was so that Florian could get out of it to meet his mate here, but it simply wasn’t necessary in the first book, so it’s not necessary here. Queer. Bating.

Lastly, the whole thing was very predictable. I found it annoying that no one was supposed to see the obvious machinations. And I found the little bit of bondage and spanking irrelevant. It wasn’t well incorporated and felt unnatural in the sex scenes.

The thing is, this is a second book in a series and I had a lot of the same sort of problems with book one. So, I can’t say I’m surprised. But I really wanted to have this read and off my TBR. The mechanical writing seems fine, but the authors version of what should make women happy makes me gnash my teeth. The narrator, Brian Callanan did a fine job with it though.

Review of Monster Hunting 101 (The Hunters #1), by Richard A. Bamberg

I won an Audible copy of Monster Hunting 101, by Richard A. Bamberg through LibraryThing.

Description from Goodreads:
When Jesse’s old girlfriend calls him requesting an immediate meeting late at night, he thinks of a lot of reasons she might have called. None of them are anywhere near the truth. Instead of a late night booty call, Gail brings him into a world he didn’t know existed, ghouls, werewolves, and ghosts and they all seem to be after Jesse’s blood. Gail wants Jesse to put a silver bullet in her heart to keep her from becoming the monster she hunts, but there’s no way Jesse is going to kill the girl he once loved. He convinces her to let him restrain her for the full moon. Luckily, a local Adult Intimacies store has all the bondage gear he needs. 

Now he just has to fight off a pack of werewolves single-handedly while keeping her from ripping his own throat out. 

Sex, guns, and werewolves, what could go wrong?

This unintentionally turned into a bit of a feminist critique of the book. I guess I can’t help but see things through that lens.

Listening to this was an interesting experience. Paranormal Romance is generally considered a genre geared toward women. It does after all have the word romance in it. But Monster Hunting 101 is most definitely a PNR for men. As such, I suspect many would avoid calling it PNR at all, insisting instead on Urban Fantasy or Military Fantasy (the hero is a veteran). But let’s not quibble, it has werewolves and a strong romantic subplot. It is Paranormal Romance, plain and simple. It’s just written such that the male character is the focus, instead of the female one, as would normally be the case.

That’s not to say that, as a woman, I didn’t enjoy it. I did. But books written by and for different audiences have a different focus, different centre of attention, different tone sometimes. And MH101 has the male gaze of its protagonist, not to mention his brand of humor, and he is the moving force of the plot, while the female fades into the background. This makes it stand apart from a lot of PNR books. I enjoyed it, but it was a different experience than many will be used to and it has different strengths and weaknesses.

I liked Jesse very much. He was an admirable hero and he was funny in the face of danger, as was Gail. But I very much felt she was just there to give him someone to bounce banter off of. The world of Hunters looks to be an interesting one and I can see this series going on for a while. It has lots of potential.

On the other hand, I thought the ridiculous amount of time dedicated to the choosing and applying of bondage gear was there for little more than titillation, especially since Gail so often had to be near naked in these scenes.

Plus, I got seriously sick of him subtly propositioning her for sex. I totally understand this was how the two of them flirted and she was not feeling offended or pressured at all. The (male) author made sure to write it that way. But as a female reader, I was annoyed by it. It was ceaseless and slapped of coercion. This joking, lighthearted, nothing wrong with any individual comment (most compliments), when taken together is constant pressure. In real life, it’s one of the ways “nice guys” coerce reluctant women to sleep with them. For the target of such a man’s attention, it’s sometimes easier to just give in and get it over with, even if you don’t really want it, than put up with the continued onslaught, especially if it’s a situation in which you are stuck. So, seeing Jesse do this eventually became nails on a chalkboard for me and I suspect it’s one of the many real world ways some men’s view of their own behavior and some women’s view of the same actions differ. Maybe others won’t read it this way, certainly the author didn’t intend it to be, but that’s where I was at the end of it.

I was also slightly annoyed that the strong, capable Gail called Jesse with a problem and then handed all control and decision-making power over to him. I mean, the D/s bondage gear as a solution was a fairly literal example of this. But ideally, who leaves the least knowledgable and experienced member of a crew in charge? But then, it too often seems natural for it to be the man, regardless of how skilled the women involved are. Don’t we see that everyday? Don’t get me wrong, Gail was never a push over and I loved that about her and Jesse respected and appreciated her strong personality. I very much liked that about him. But the book still made Jesse the most frequent decision-maker. He was the leader. In fact, I suspect the ending left him able to physically control certain aspects of Gail’s werewolf nature. Making him literally in control of her body.

Lastly, while the writing is pretty good, outside of a few examples of the same word being used several times in close succession and sounding repetitive, the plotting has far too many coincidences in it to be believed. I could not suspend my disbelief far enough to roll with some of the happenstance in this book. Ryan Jeanmaire also did an admirable job with the narration, but I did find it a bit flat.

All in all, I had some issues with the book, but I mostly enjoyed it and would be willing to read a second one.

Review of Vanity in Dust (Crown & Ash #1), by Cheryl Low

I won a copy of Cheryl Low‘s Vanity in Dust through Library Thing.

Description from Goodreads:
In the Realm there are whispers. Whispers that the city used to be a different place. That before the Queen ruled there was a sky beyond the clouds and a world beyond their streets. 

Vaun Dray Fen never knew that world. Born a prince without a purpose in a Realm ruled by lavish indulgence, unrelenting greed, and vicious hierarchy, he never knew a time before the Queen’s dust drugged the city. Everything is poisoned to distract and dull the senses, even the tea and pastries. And yet, after more than a century, his own magic is beginning to wake. The beautiful veneer of the Realm is cracking. Those who would defy the Queen turn their eyes to Vaun, and the dust saturating the Realm. 

From the carnivorous pixies in the shadows to the wolves in the streets, Vaun thought he knew all the dangers of his city. But when whispers of treason bring down the fury of the Queen, he’ll have to race to save the lives and souls of those he loves.

What a lovely cover that is. I wish the book lived up to it. It’s accurate and all, there’s a well-dressed, handsome man and he drinks lots of tea and eats lots of pastries, but I didn’t love the book as I loved the cover. Now, I didn’t hate it. And for most of the rather plodding, slow book I held out hope I’d end it happy. But I did not. Mostly because a very small mystery developed toward the end of the book and it was solved, but the larger mysteries were never even touched on. Not touched on in a way that makes me doubt they’d be solved in a next book or one after that.

I thought the world was interesting. Magic is basically a drug, it suffuses almost every aspect of the wealthy citizens’ lives, making them vapid and useless. And you see this in everything from their attitudes, to their sex to the tea cakes and torts that constitute food. It was a well-drawn world. I thought the writing a little purple, but still good. The pace was very slow, but it was atmospheric and I didn’t mind until I realized it wasn’t going to go anywhere important. So, some really good points for the book, but a few demerits too.

I was annoyed that the one thing that spawned Vaun to action was his affection ( won’t call it love) for a woman. The one woman he previously has never been able to have. I HATE this plot device. You have a man who has sexual access to every woman in the kingdom practically. He’s a man-slut (they all are). But one woman won’t sleep with him. So, she’s THE ONE. So, she sleeps with him. I’m always annoyed by this.

But on a more world-level scale I was not happy with the use of bisexuality. At first I was really thrilled to see that bisexuality seemed to be the norm. But it really was just presented as a way for characters to have more sex (twice as many options for sexual partners, you see), and not explored at all. But what’s more, it was all inferred. Like, the author was willing to allow for it, but not brave enough to show it. Granted, most of the sex was off-page, but there were plenty of ‘waking up in bed together’ scenes and they were all M/F, except one, and I didn’t sense sex had been involved so much as one man coming into the room in the morning to avoid being seen elsewhere. So, it kind of felt like a cheap use of bisexuality, instead of a representation of it. Similarly, if they were all so sexually debaucherous, why was prostitution still so shamed? More so than a child-like woman who trolls the rough side of town for her rape fantasies and is still considered the only “innocent Vym.”

All in all, I had complaints, but I would have rated this quite a bit higher if I felt the overarching mystery was touched on at all, instead of set up to hover over the book like a giant spider and then ignored. I probably will give book two a chance. If it looks like it is going to move the bigger plot along I’ll finish the series. If it remains focused on the smaller dramas, probably not.